By Benjamin Reeves
McClatchy News Service, October 25, 2013
"The human rights prosecution of former Guatemalan dictator Jose Efrain Rios Montt, whose brutal rule in the early 1980s saw the deaths of tens of thousands of the country's indigenous people, has hit another obstacle, with one of the country's two high courts saying the retired general may be entitled to amnesty. The court's declaration, which was leaked this week to a Guatemalan news outlet, orders the lower court that is trying Rios Montt to reconsider whether a 1986 amnesty law applies in his case. The court previously had ruled that it did not. The court's declaration and supporting documents have not been provided to either the defense or the prosecution in the case, and the court's precise arguments are yet to be reviewed by the lower court. But should the lower court accept them, it would be a major setback for human rights advocates, who've long viewed Rios Montt's prosecution as a milestone in Guatemala's assigning responsibility for one of the bloodiest period’s in Latin American history. Rios Montt, who enjoyed the support of the Reagan administration at the time, is accused of genocide for a bloody three-year campaign of rural pacification that drove nearly 1 million people from their homes and killed countless others. Massacres, disappearances and torture were common during his rule, which his government justified as being necessary to crush a communist-inspired rebellion among Guatemala’s indigenous people. On May 10, Rios Montt was found guilty of genocide and war crimes, the first time that a former head of state was convicted of crimes against humanity in his own country. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison. However, the Constitutional Court overturned Rios Montt's conviction just 10 days later, citing disputes over jurisdiction.